My Two Cents on Impact of Kenya’s Elections on Diplomatic Relations

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President Uhuru Kenyatta at the inauguration ceremony

The outcome of Kenya’s elections have been described by the western world as “unconventional” since it was expected that Kenyan’s under the new Constitutional dispensation would not have overwhelmingly voted for the two candidates(Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto) who are suspects charged with grievous crimes under the Rome Statute (International Criminal Court). However, if the election results are to go by, it appears that the western world was mistaken and this potends a new paradigm shift of African nations as regards choice of leadership and breaking the norm of being at the beck and call of the western nations.

The election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, both of whom have pending cases in the ICC, has put western nations like the US and the UK in an awkward diplomatic relationship given that Kenya is a key strategic partner of the US as regards fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa; it is a major economic hub of the East Africa and Horn of Africa regions and in maintaining regional stability due to its geo-political position. Although before the elections the US had cautioned Kenyans against voting for Uhuru Kenyatta and his co-accused William Ruto to the effect that Johnny Carson noted that “choices have consequences”, it is highly unlikely that the US will completely cut off relations with Kenya or even move to institute sanctions against Kenya.

This can be explained by the change in geo-strategic environment within Africa where China is increasingly creating opportunities for African states to acquire an economic leverage that they did not have before. This change is  causing a diplomatic focus shift among many African countries and the US as well as the other western nations would cautiously be weighing the decision of breaking off ties with Kenya. Jendayi Frazer, a former US Under-Secretary of State for African States confirmed this argument by noting, “The Chinese have changed the playing field and if the US, UK and Europeans don’t want to deal with Uhuru Kenyatta, he has another option (China).”[1]

This assertion demonstrates the diminishing role and diplomatic power of western nations over African states. For a long while now the western nations used their economic power as a diplomatic leverage over African states and often times employing a carrot and stick diplomacy to arm-twist African nations into submission and serve their political and economic interest. However, today the outlook for most African nations is different and majority has embraced the Look-East policy thanks to the entrant of China. This has given opportunities to countries like Kenya to confidently relate with China as a key trading and diplomatic partner without worrying about the consequences of not towing the diplomatic “box” that western nations want to fit the African nations

Another impact of Kenya’s elections to Africa’s international relations is that it sends out a strong message to the human rights regime embodied in the ICC architecture to the extent of a “renewed mood of self assertion in Africa”[2] The ICC regime was established to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. By Kenyan’s choosing to overwhelmingly vote two individuals who have pending cases at the ICC, it’s a strong message to the West that Kenyan’s (Africans) can make their own choices and interpretations of human rights violations irrespective of how skewed  this interpretation of human rights is. This self assertion was best captured by the President-elect in his victory speech when he noted, “Today, we celebrate the triumph of democracy; the triumph of peace; the triumph of nationhood. Despite the misgivings of many in the world, we demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectations. That is the real victory today. A victory for our nation. A victory that demonstrates to all that Kenya has finally come of age.”

The election of the two ICC indictees is a big denunciation of the ICC process. The process in itself although at first was received with mixed reactions by Kenyans and had received immense support by a majority according to opinion polls; has ended up “being counterproductive and has exacerbated ethnic polarization.”[3] Beyond Kenya, the process has also continued to be perceived as a politicized rather than a judicial and independent process. This has delegitimized its mandate of fighting impunity and has lost support among African nations as it is viewed as western-backed court that only seeks to prosecute Africans. It will be a watershed moment if the ICC succeeded to prosecute the suspects in the Kenya case as  this has a great bearing on the legacy of the court as an international independent judicial court.


[3] Kimenyi, M.S Kenya at a Tipping Point: The 2013 Presidential Election (2012)

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